A question of size
April 21, 2007 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Dinner party debate (now you obviously know what I use Ask MeFi for...): In general, do midgets wish they were taller? Has there ever been a study about little people's attitudes towards their littleness? Personal experience welcome, but statistics even better.
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think you'll have more success if you use words in your search that aren't considered derogatory or offensive. Dwarfism is the medical term, and the "PC" term is little person.
posted by gramcracker at 1:11 PM on April 21, 2007

Technically, dwarf != midget, from what I understand. They are both small people, of course, but the midget has "normal" proportions. Dwarves are proportioned differently, such as having larger heads in proportion to the rest of their bodies, etc.

I guess according to the Little People of America web site, the term "midget" has fallen out of favor. "Little person" is the favored term.

But it seems that there is a distinction between dwarves and midgets/little people.
posted by iguanapolitico at 1:42 PM on April 21, 2007

Wouldn't an analogous question be: In general do women with small breasts wish their breasts were larger? I don't think you're going to get a general consensus. It varies. Some people are happy with the way they are, some aren't.
posted by banished at 1:42 PM on April 21, 2007

As one of the aforementioned vertically challenged individuals (*cough*ihatethatphrase*cough*), I'll put in my two cents.

"Dwarf" and "Little Person" are the preferred terms. They refer to the same thing; the distinction iguanapolitico refers to is no longer one that anyone cares about. Midget used to be the proper term, but has fallen out of favor. If you look at the history of the word "negro", it's a similar pattern; once the proper term, but now fairly offensive (although since people don't know that, you generally get a pass the first time).

Most of us don't want to be taller. We're perfectly happy at the height we're at. There are those who would like to be taller, just as in every group, but I think they're in the minority. To be honest, it has advantages as well as disadvantages.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:54 PM on April 21, 2007

Well, I'd think that women with little breasts encounter far fewer prejudices and overall life challenges than do Little People.

But yes, I agree that since we live with what we have been given since birth, a "normal" tall or short person, or a woman with suffocating- or nubby-boobs, or a man who is a hairy beast or a natural wax-job, probably identifies with whatever that quality may be. And each individual probably likes it or they don't.

Though, I personally could stand to have a naturally higher metabolism, a darker complexion, and a bit less hair, but through diet, exercise, self tanning lotion, and trimmers/razors, I can keep myself to some acceptable standard that I've self-imposed. Little people can't do anything at all about their stature.

There was some Boston Legal episode about this. Bethany made it clear that she wouldn't want to be any other size. But she's fictional.

Any little people among us?

On preview: spaceman_spiff! Thank you. So, nobody cares about the distinction, eh? That's interesting. I'm such a "classifier," and I don't mean just about people but about plants, drinks, or what-have-you, that I just thought that the distinction would matter. Wrong, then.

I always wanted to be shorter. In fact: I always wanted to be the person to invent shoes that make one shorter. There's a lot of wacky stuff in physics; why not un-pumps? I digress.
posted by iguanapolitico at 2:05 PM on April 21, 2007

As an avid watcher of "Little People Big World", I would have to concur that this is not simply an aesthetic preference. It is not the same as saying "would women like to be more beautiful", but "would a disabled person like to walk?" Whether they are psychologically happy with their condition it does not parlay the fact they face real difficulties in life due to their stature. This is not limited to the various medical conditions and ailments (they are indeed, not just short but face other complications) but problems with day-to-day functioning. Modern life is geared toward the two or three sigma height deviations that manage to encompass 99.7% of society.

While I am sure that if a magic pill developed and adults were given the choice to take it or remain a little person, some would refuse on grounds of their self identity being so intertwined with being a little person. See how the autistic community reacts to finding for autism. I doubt you would find too many parents not wanting to give a cure to their children (though I remember a thought experiment in a child psychology class which involved deaf parents wanting only a deaf child).
posted by geoff. at 2:39 PM on April 21, 2007

Many in the disabled community would disagree with you, geoff--as well as in the deaf and gay communities. There is plenty written about this in ethics literature in all 3 groups.
posted by gramcracker at 2:47 PM on April 21, 2007

Yes, of course. Disability and cure is not a binary issue, as is what is normal. But, as not to derail the question too much but I do believe this is really at the heart of the question asked, it would be interesting to see the rates of little people begetting little people should a "cure" be available versus little people in the general population. My hunch is that it would be mixed among little people population and all but a few of the statistically normal-sized parents giving "the cure", which probably has more to do with complex issues of self-identity than anything.
posted by geoff. at 3:00 PM on April 21, 2007

It is not the same as saying "would women like to be more beautiful", but "would a disabled person like to walk?"
You'd be surprised at how many disabled people don't want to be fixed. There's actually a whole political movement build around the idea that what needs to be fixed is society, not disabled people's bodies.
posted by craichead at 3:03 PM on April 21, 2007

It is not the same as saying "would women like to be more beautiful", but "would a disabled person like to walk?"

Many women are perfectly happy to be as beautiful as they currently are. We could do with some better looking men though - at least put on a clean shirt.
posted by yohko at 6:29 PM on April 21, 2007

I actually recently read about a related subject in the psychologist Daniel Gilbert's book "Stumbling on Happiness". In chapter 2 he talks about the happiness of Siamese twins and the perception of happiness in general by humans. The theory he discusses is called the "experience stretching hypothesis" which is pretty cool within itself. He also cites this study about happiness in Siamese twins which claims that almost none of them express a desire to live separate lives. I suppose this is a kind of similar situation, although obviously isn't the same situation. I recommend the book highly if you want to check out the subject farther.

if you want a copy of the article drop me a line.
posted by jourman2 at 6:34 PM on April 21, 2007

See also, Wanting Babies Like Themselves, Some Parents Choose Genetic Defects.
[S]ome parents had the painful and expensive fertility procedure for the express purpose of having children with a defective gene. It turns out that some mothers and fathers don’t view certain genetic conditions as disabilities but as a way to enter into a rich, shared culture....

Mary Ellen Little, a New Jersey nurse with dwarfism, had her first daughter before a prenatal test for achondroplasia was available. For her second child, she had amniocentesis. “I prayed for a little one,” meaning a dwarf, she told me.

The wait, she recalled, was grueling, since “I figured I couldn’t be blessed twice, but I was.” Both her daughters, now 11 and 7, are “little people.” (via)
posted by alms at 6:51 PM on April 21, 2007

I'm down with calling people what they want to be called, but I've got to say that "midget" seems judgment-neutral to me, whereas "little people" seems cloyingly condescending.
posted by Flunkie at 7:47 PM on April 21, 2007

Everybody wishes for something but generally you always end up with the "grass is greener on the other side" syndrome. As for midget, little people or dwarf, I believe they would probably be fine with being labeled "short".
posted by bkeene12 at 8:02 PM on April 21, 2007

Flunkie: some people do prefer dwarf to LP pretty strongly. Me, I tend to use LP when I'm with people who are 'in the know' and dwarf otherwise, for reasons similar to what you said. That seems to be common, but not ubiquitous, certainly.

Iguanapolitico: So, nobody cares about the distinction, eh? That's interesting. I'm such a "classifier," and I don't mean just about people but about plants, drinks, or what-have-you, that I just thought that the distinction would matter. Wrong, then.

Before my time, but I believe the proportional ones - the "midgets" once had greater social status. At least, among groups of dwarfs and midgets - I don't know if society as a whole ever cared, although it wouldn't surprise me if proportional short stature wasn't as stigmatized. Now, it's not a distinction that we notice so much, but there's always less of a status hit to appearance differences (disability or not) that conform more closely to the standards of beauty/appearance that our society has.

Gramcracker, craichead (great nick, btw): thanks. To add another way of saying it: a lot of these groups - disabled, LGBT, racial, etc - say, this is me. This is who I am. If I were to change, that may be the more privileged way of life; but it's not me.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:42 PM on April 21, 2007

I've got to say that "midget" seems judgment-neutral to me

This exchange may cause you to reconsider your opinion.
posted by jjg at 1:42 AM on April 22, 2007

Beeing nonstraight in a heteronormative society gives you a lot of problem. When you're in the middle of one of those problems it's quite reasonably to think that things would be easier if you were straight. But then it's the question of whether this thought takes the form of wanting to be straight, or wanting the society to be less heteronormative. Since sexuality in our society is such an important thing of you are, wanting to be like the norm in this area means that you want to give up a part of you are and be someone else. Like spaceman_spiff said, this - unsurprinsingly - goes for little people as well. The reason it normally doesn't works the same way with wanting larger breasts is that society's response to you having small breasts, is unlikely to affect your whole life in the same way and "wrong" breast size is more likely to be something outside you (no pun intended) than a part of you.

Besides this, seeing the problems as a problem with society rather than with you, is of course a prerequisite to be able to actually change the society and get rid of the problems.
posted by pica at 3:33 AM on April 22, 2007

This exchange may cause you to reconsider your opinion.
Well, yes, I was unaware that "midget" was coined (at least with respect to people) by Barnum, as a circus term. And as I said, I'm down with calling people whatever they want to be called.

But "midget seems judgment-neutral" was really a side point of my statement. My main point was unaddressed by the article (well, actually, Ebert mentioned it, and the other guy ignored Ebert mentioning it):

"Little people" seems cloying and condescending to me (and similarly, to Ebert, it "seems to have a vaguely condescending cuteness to it").

If I were a little person, and "little person" were not a common term for little people, and someone referred to me as a "little person", I'm pretty sure I would think that that person is a dick.

Again, I'm down with calling people whatever they want to be called. All I'm saying is that I think that the little people made a bad choice along those lines.
posted by Flunkie at 8:48 AM on April 22, 2007

Regarding terminology: I have also always thought this preference odd, both for the stated reasons and because to me, dwarf=mythological character. Thanks for the explanation!

Regarding pop-culture treatments of this issue: the recent House episode Merry Little Christmas dealt with this in what I believe was an interesting and inclusive manner. Particularly since it dealt with a little person whose child was also presumed to be a little person, but turned out to have an unrelated and reversible problem, and the dilemma of how to address that.

FOCUS: I would think that, as has already been stated, it would depend on the person. I think it would be particularly dependant on how much their condition (not just height but associated difficulties like joint problems and shortness of limbs) had negatively effected their life. Just speculating, but I would think that a little person with more complications would be more likely to take a "magic pill" if offerred. I assume things like isolation from other little people (or perhaps simply from exposure to the diversity of the human form) would contribute to a lack of self-acceptance.

I wonder if the recent spate of successful characters and themes about this on television has positively affected the community? As opposed to being a rather callous network gimmick?
posted by sarahkeebs at 7:32 AM on April 24, 2007

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